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How can parents address the needs of the psychological health of their children during the pandemic times?

By G. Balasubramanian

Yes. We are passing through a storm, an unprecedented one, a kind of weather to which we haven’t been exposed anytime earlier. The first and the second wave has shaken certain foundations of our social structure in spite of all the best efforts, we are torn between conflicts, we are being subsumed by fear, we are haunted by negativities sometimes very consciously created by some devil’s advocates either to suit their ego or to grow in their business. With lockdown and its barriers, one of the most impacted group of the community is the young children at the formative age.

They suffer from the following:

1. Restricted physical mobility which is required for the growing age.

2. Restricted learning opportunities blocking their air of curiosity.

3. Restraining interactions with peers to share emotional content and experiences

4. Monotony in mental experiences with sterol-types of inputs

5. Social controls that challenge their latent freedom to grow and experiment

6. An atmosphere of gloom, despair and insecurity at home due to parenting challenges

As an educator, I foresee the impact of this environment on the young minds both at short term and in the long-term growth profile. Leaving aside, their physical growth which can be taken care of otherwise, the impact on their psyche, their attitudes, their social behaviour, their personal relationship, their empathetic levels, their canvas of social consciousness is likely to be huge. Jimmy Dean said “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to reach the destination.” The meaning behind these lines appears to be quite significant. All that what we need to do, we could do, and we can comfortably do is to adjust the sails in our navigation of life to ensure better emotional security and psychological health. There appears to be no case for celebrating an imaginative fear about the darkness we face, because at the end of tunnel there has to be light. “Not until we are lost, we do begin to understand ourselves,” said Henry Thoreau.

With all the limitations at our end, the parents need to play a vital role in ensuring the mental and psychological health of their wards. To me, it appears as the most important exercise to let the children feel happy, safe, secure, self-confident, worthy and relevant. All that the families need to do is to provide some meaningful time for engagement with their wards, creating a sense of proximity, unconditional love, belongingness and moral support. This is not the time where parents need to spend on their children either to show their money power or their willingness to meet all the consumerist needs, but it is time where they reach out to the kids to provide emotional support so that life becomes easy and meaningful with assurances for better healthy days, hope, success and glory. This is not a time for judgment, but this is a time for support structures.

The following simple things parents could do to promote the mental and psychological health of their wards

1. Engage in conversations

Many children appear to be lost in themselves and appear to be suffering from a sense of loneliness. This is indeed a critical aspect of psychological health. With no opportunities to converse either for delight or for purpose, the children appear to be suffocating from within, with no gateways for effective and meaningful communications. It is important for parents to open those blocked gateways by imitating conversations with their wards on some subjects of common interest. Conversation clear emotional blockages and create an acknowledgment value among both the participants. Conversations relieve already built stress and clear the pathways for better understanding. Further, it will reduce the artificial distances among the old and the young be eliminating the fear of authority, fear for submission, fear for power and fear of suppression. Conversations help in building a psychological bond that provides a blief system that someone is willing to be with us, willing to talk to us, willing to acknowledge us. Parents should set aside their ego and come down from the ivory pillars of glorified wisdom, experience and converse at lower wavelengths to create more acceptability.

2. Share experiences and provide motivation

Normally, children are not too wiling to hear the old stories from their parents. The moments like “Once upon a time.”, “in my younger days…” are statements which really create a time and relevance gap between the speaker and the listener. Yet, parents can capsule their experiences in small anecdotes and knowledge packs; they can provide some motivational stimuli and narrate the experiences both positive and negative, as a mixed bag, to create an impression in the young minds that ordeals do happen at all ages, to all people and at all times of human history. These narratives, which could be articulated to become participatory through episodic designs, could motivate the young ones to believe that struggles are for everyone, and hence they have no reason to feel lost or low, during these moments of crisis.

3. Assign, acknowledge and appreciate

With schools operating with a different design, the children appear to be suffering from low acknowledgement and appreciation which help build their self-esteem and identity, to get celebrated. Nurturing of the self-esteem and identity, is very important to make the children conscious of their own growth. This is indeed a positive input. Hence parents could assign some simple tasks at home, which are not necessarily curricular. Engaging them with some simple tasks, parents should wait for every single opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate them so that their morale stands elevated. Such exercises are like a pill of vitamins for their psychological well-being.

4. Play and dance

Play and dance play a very important role in ensuring the mental and psychological health of all individuals. For children, they are indeed exercises which address to their holistic wellbeing. A few games, a few moments of laughter, a few dancing sequences help in synergizing the mental, physical, emotional and psychological health. They relieve the latent stress of the young ones and help them to reposition themselves to normalcy with speed and strength. Play and dance are not meant for identifying who has a better talent, or who is a winner, but they shall be exercise that promote fun, frolic, freedom and faith. They nurture the fitness levels to respond effectively to the environment, They also help to create better sense of belongingness with parents and also help in establishing openness and transparency. During times of crisis, like the current one, they help in developing better psychological security boundaries among the members.

5. Give scope for physical mobility

One of the prominent challenges during these testing times is that there is a huge restriction for physical mobility outside the house. Hence absence of adequate mobility promotes lethargy, laziness, disinterest, poverty of attention, procrastination and a sense of helplessness. Parents should help and facilitate children to acquire opportunities for physical mobility through simple stretching and bending exercises at home. Leaving aside instructional approach, they should participate and engage along with their wards in performing these exercises for the sheer joy of togetherness. Further, some elementary yogic postures and exercises should help in rejuvenating the energy and neutralize the energy loss. A few minutes of breathing exercises along with their wards would help in beating the challenges arising out of the impact of the virus. Absence of adequate space is one common complaint parents give to explain their not doing such things. I think it is more of a mental perception rather than a real challenge.

6. Engage intellectually through puzzles, riddles and quiz

Beyond conversations and times for physical exercises, parents could examine every possible opportunity to interact with their wards with some intellectual challenges. Puzzles, Riddles, Crosswords would help in participatory approaches to intellectual challenges. They help in furthering motivation, investigation, seeking proof and in promoting a sense of risk taking and enterprise. They also help in building vocabulary, rational and logical thinking, seeking historical and cultural insights and in developing informal learning. Quiz plays a very important role in provoking curiosity, research, agility and awareness among the learners. Parents could engage in quizzing exercises relating to local historical, geographical, cultural and scientific issues so that children believe that the universe of knowledge is unlimited. Learning, they should believe, happens beyond the four walls of the classroom.

7. Read along with them

With declining trends in reading habits, parents could suggest, participate, compete and interact with their wards by reading books. The choice of books could be made appropriate to the age, but it is important that the children should be encouraged to study a wide variety of books including narratives, biographies, classics, poems, stories, novels and other wide variety of literature. This is important to make them aware that literature is not restricted to emotional stimulants only, but there are a huge variety of books that have a soothing effect to our emotions, feelings, thoughts and life processes. With digital supports available, thousands of books are available free of cost and hence parents could facilitate in downloading them even on a mobile and help them. Reading expands their universe of understanding about the world and its happening, humans and their achievements, social architecture alongside the historical and geographical perspective’s It also exposes them to the development profile of the world over centuries.

8. Facilitate hobbies

Learning is not exclusively textual and based on facts. It is oftentimes a process of discovery. It helps the learners to discover themselves. Hobbies provide an excellent platform for this smooth journey of discovering the immense potential of the self in its diverse forms. Small activities like drawing, painting, photography, writing, poetry, story writing and a wide variety of other hobbies including cooking could be learnt and practiced during these stressful times. All these engagements rise the self-esteem of the young people to a large extent and sow the seeds for their later professional personalities. Parents should help in shaping the personality profile of their wards through ‘win-win’ situations and celebrate their achievements and growth as their own. These hobbies will help in not only confronting the negativities that knock at their door, but to grow bigger than these challenges and defeat them with their intellectual emotional, mental and psychological strength.

The words of Lili Rhinehart are indeed a good message that parents’ could give to their children during these testing times “You are more precious to this world than you ever know.”